The Velvet Underground: “Head Held High”
Day Two of the Velvet Underground “Two for Tuesday(/Wednesday)” — and today it’s the song that I originally had planned to post yesterday, if “Rock & Roll” hadn’t reared up to force me into posting it first. (Great rock songs sometimes have very big egos.) But today, it’s all about “Head Held High,” my second-favorite rocker from VU’s 1970 album Loaded. It’s an even more in-your-face and urgent song than “Rock & Roll,” and Lou sings it more roughly, with barely concealed venom. It’s hard to say exactly, but it would seem to be about Lou’s dealing with his own homosexual leanings, or more precisely, how others dealt with them.
Ever since I was a baby on my mama’s knee,
Oh, just listened to what everybody told me, oh yes I did.
But still the answer was to become a dancer,
And hold your head up high,
But, just like I figured, they’re always disfigured,
They hold their heads up high.
“The answer was to become a dancer” can be interpreted as a way for him to be in a more accepted context for his sexual preferences. And to “hold your head up high,” rather than the more obvious meaning of being proud of who you are, seems here to mean something like “act normally, and maybe no one will notice.” But in doing so themselves, holding up a facade to disguise their own flaws, Lou sees those people as “disfigured,” rather than revealing their true selves.
Or maybe none of that’s accurate and it’s something else entirely. In any case, the fact remains that “Head Held High” is a ferocious song,
and contains some of Moe Tucker’s most energetic drumming — she wails away on this one, seemingly silencing critics who dismiss her drumming as primitive. Her drumming suited the Velvet Underground’s sound perfectly — anything more flashy would have seemed out of place. And here she was truly inspired to give it everything she had. And what drummer wouldn’t have been?
[Why is that section above crossed out? Well, after I posted this (and cross-posted to my matching Tumblr blog), I was informed over on Tumblr that in fact it isn’t Moe Tucker drumming on “Head Held High” — in fact she wasn’t on any song on Loaded at all, despite the fact that she’s given credit on the album. It turns out she was on maternity leave during the album sessions, and in fact the drumming on “Head Held High” was done by Tommy Castanero. My bad! But it’s always good to learn new things, right?]